More than half of cleaning cloths used in restaurant and take-away kitchens contain too much bacteria, a new study has revealed.
Research by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) published today to tie in with its annual conference at the University of Warwick found that from 133 cloths used for the sample, from 120 establishments in the North-east of England, 56% contained unacceptable levels of bacteria. The most common were Enterobacteriaceae (found on 86 cloths) E. coli (21 cloths), Staphylococcus aureus (six cloths) and Listeria (five cloths).
The HPA recommends that cloths used in kitchens should be changed or disinfected frequently to stop bacteria growing, which could cause food poisoning. Any breakdown in these procedures means that bacteria can be spread from the cloths to the hands of catering staff and then spread to work surfaces and equipment.
Where kitchens prepare both raw and ready-to-eat foods, there should be separate cloths for both areas to reduce the risk of spread of bacteria.
Although the recommended advice for restaurants is to use disposable cloths that are changed regularly, the study found that only a third (32%) of the catering premises reviewed did this. The remaining two-thirds (68%) used re-usable cloths and 15% were unsure as to how often these were replaced.
One of the most important factors in reducing the spread of bacteria around the kitchen is to separate cloths used for raw and ready-to-eat food areas but the research found that 24 cloths had been used between these two areas.
The researchers also found that there was no consistent approach to disinfection of re-usable cloths or in the method of disinfection. The majority disinfected their re-usable cloths every 10-24 hours but a number left it longer than 24 hours and some didn't know how often cloths were disinfected.
Dr John Piggott, the lead author from the HPA's Food, Water and Environmental Microbiology laboratory in Leeds, said: "It's of concern that despite recommendations to use disposable cloths, the majority of restaurants we surveyed were re-using cleaning cloths and some were unaware how often they changed them.
"Although many disinfected their cloths using bleach or other disinfectants, soaking does not remove the food on which the bacteria grow. The disinfectant qualities of bleach do wear off after a period of time so soaking large amounts of cloths together can result in bacteria contaminating more cloths and creating more potential problems."
<span class=""noindex"">By Chris Druce
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